For decades Penn State was considered special, immune from the corruption of college athletics by virtue of Joe Paterno's high ideals, long list of victories and even longer list of graduates.
Now, to many people outside Penn State and even some insiders, that's been exposed as an illusion.
"I doubt anybody could have imagined this. In eight months, he's gone from St. Joe to something approaching the devil," said Frank Fitzpatrick, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and author of two books on Paterno and Penn State, including a biography last year, Pride of the Lions.
"The contrast between the ethical standards we always associated with Joe and the complete lack of them in how this was handled — if what the Freeh Report says is true, and I have no reason to doubt it is, to sacrifice kids for the reputation of a football program, that's pretty despicable. I can't imagine anything more shocking than that."
Penn State's former star linebacker LaVar Arrington said Paterno was not perfect. "Joe was not God. Joe was a person, and he messed up," Arrington said. "On the other hand, if you're looking at everything Joe has done and all the lives he's impacted and all the things he's done ... that still remains as well. So how do you separate the two? I don't know. I don't have the answer for that one, I really don't."
Until last fall, Paterno symbolized all that was right about college sports. His teams won, but he didn't sacrifice his standards to do it. Penn State's graduation rates were impeccable, his players were as good off the field as they were on, and his financial support of the university often had nothing to do with the football program.
For some of those closest to Penn State and Paterno, , their faith in the coach remains unshakeable. They believe Paterno, though not perfect, is being made a scapegoat, with no way to refute the accusations. Paterno had planned to cooperate with the investigation, but died before he could give Freeh's team his account of what happened.
But that misses the point, said Brad Benson, a former Penn State offensive lineman who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants. The lives of at least 10 children have been changed forever, and that is where the focus should be.
"There's no way out of this to make it a good story. It's a shame," Benson said. "But we're being selfish saying it's a shame. It's a shame for these kids. Penn State will recover; these kids won't."